Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Sleep, gray brother of death,
Has touched me,
And passed on.

Joseph Campbell

East North
East-West ♠ K 10 7 6 5
 J 4 2
 10 4 2
♣ J 10
West East
♠ Q 3
 10 6 5
 Q 3
♣ A Q 9 6 3 2
♠ J 9 2
 Q 9 8 7
 K 9 8 7
♣ 8 7
♠ A 8 4
 A K 3
 A J 6 5
♣ K 5 4
South West North East
1 Pass 1♠ Pass
2 NT All pass    


Today's deal poses the sort of problem to which there is no good answer. South should make a response with five high-card points, taking a chance of getting too high, both in the hope of finding a spade fit and to avoid making it easy for the enemy to compete. On the next round, he should use his discretion to end the auction by passing two no-trump, since unless playing the Wolff signoff it may not be possible to stop in three spades. More on that later.

When West leads the club six against two no-trump, South wins dummy’s club 10 and leads the spade five. East should now think before automatically playing low. He should work out that it may be advantageous (and cannot cost anything) if he can be the defender to lead the second round of clubs. He should therefore split his spade honors to prevent declarer from ducking the trick to West. Equally, if declarer wins the spade ace, West must also avoid the automatic play of following with his small spade. He must unblock his queen, so that declarer cannot duck the next lead in spades to him, thereby preventing his partner from leading through declarer’s vulnerable club king. After each defender sacrifices a spade honor at his first turn, the contract is doomed.

The Wolff signoff, by the way, is a call of three clubs over the two no-trump rebid, after which a three-spade call by responder at his next turn is an attempt to play there.

The best way to get your values across is to bid two no-trump now. This shows more than an overcall of two no-trump, hence about 18-20 high-card points. Let partner go from there in whichever direction he sees fit. The important thing is that you have transferred captaincy to him by describing your hand accurately.


♠ A 8 4
 A K 3
 A J 6 5
♣ K 5 4
South West North East
Dbl. Pass 2♠ Pass

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2November 19th, 2013 at 12:40 pm

The column description of the play of the hand would require East’s spade holding to be J102 rather than the J92 that is actually presented.

The same theme is still possible with East holding J92, but the play of the 9S would probably be a bit harder to find (and a stronger play for that fact).

I would note that — if the Board had another entry — an alternate line for declarer would be to come to hand and lead a small spade hoping to duck a QS play by West. When West plays small, declarer would win the AS and lead towards hand, hoping to see the smallest outstanding spade appear from East. If East plays the QS, declarer wins leads a small spade and hopes. Here, that line would work (but that vital second Board entry is absent).

Bobby WolffNovember 19th, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Hi Jim2,

Well analyzed, as usual.

Several cosmetic errors were present since it is North, not South which had the weak hand, but still should respond 1 spade, because of his 5 card major suit and “almost” a legitimate bid. Also, in response to 3 clubs (rebid) by the weak hand, his partner, the strong hand, is required to bid 3 diamonds and pass a return to his partner’s original suit response at the 3 level except if the rebid (in this case) is 3 hearts which would show a hand such as:
s. K10765, h. J8762, d. 10, c. 32 and ask partner to take a preference at the 3 level so that North could then pass, if South has not already. South, on this hand, with equal length would prefer 3 spades allowing partner to pass.

Sometimes, with what some of us would call a perfecto as a 2NT bidder, e.g. s. A84, h. AK, d. AJ65, c. K542 he might “jump” to 4 spades overruling his partner, but that is very rare and must, for partnership confidence, only be done because the strong hand should be sure that the weak hand will have 5+ spades and the doubleton AK of hearts, together with holding 3 spades will make the opening bidder even stronger for a spade contract.

As a final note, partner could have, s. K10xxx, h. xxxx, d. xx, Jx, but then he might not have kept the bidding open in the first place.

Michael BeyroutiNovember 19th, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Jim2: the ten of spades is on the board. The column line is correct as is.
Mr Wolff: Three spades by North is probably makeable. (North could establish a club trick on which to shed a red loser from hand).
If this were a problem in the “Bidding Box” (ACBL Bulletin) what scores would you give for 2NT, 3S…
Not necessarily propaganda for the Wolff Sign-Off (which I play) since some pairs play Transfers after 2NT.

jim2November 19th, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Michael Beyrouti –

So, how does “[East] should therefore split his spade honors to prevent declarer from ducking the trick to West” make sense then?

Bobby WolffNovember 19th, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Hi Michael,

OK, here are my bidding box ratings:

2 Spades=10
3 Spades=8
4 Spades=4

What would be yours, Michael and yes many good pairs play all sorts of things over a strong 2NT rebid, however there is much to prefer in a simple Wolff SO method as long as there are not too many frills.

Also, Jim2 what would be your Bidding Box ratings on this specific hand?

Michael BeyroutiNovember 19th, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Jim2: The way I understood it is that the Jack and nine are “equals” when East can see the ten in Dummy. I realize that this was an unusual use of the term “split his honors” since they are not touching…
Thank you Mr Wolff for the scores. You are too harsh as usual! (tongue in cheek). Since it is almost impossible to stop in 2S once North responds 1S, I would give 3S a 9 and 1NT an 8… although I don’t like 1NT and 2NT even less from a beauty of the auction point of view.

Bobby WolffNovember 19th, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Hi Michael,

Thanks for your comments and most of all, your opinions.

Yes, I am harsh, but I think for good reason. Perhaps a forcing club system could easily stop in 2 spades after North signals fewer than 6 HCP’s South might then allow North to play the 5-3 fit at the 2 level. Also a final contract of 1NT might remain in the picture.

Besides The Bidding Box scoring should not take into consideration the practicality of current bidding systems, but rather the necessity, or at least the joy, of creating better ways to describe hands, while not getting too high in the process.

Ever onward, ever upward, and yes, bridge is not a game for the feint of heart or for players who have a fear of failing. It is for pioneer creators, always thinking and working toward perfection in spite of the difficulty and, unfortunately up to now, having to deal with the inability to achieve some lofty goals.

jim2November 19th, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Michael Beyrouti –

Very “unusual,” indeed. Too much so for me, I fear. Do note, however, that I agreed in my original post that the theme was still intact.

James PetrieNovember 26th, 2013 at 12:48 am

I am a beginner, and would have bid 2 Clubs instead of one Diamond.

I am using “Bidding in the 21st Century” as a guide.

Please explain the bid.